Is it poor form, in the last hours of Anzac Day in Australia, to admit to owning an Olympia Robust, the so-called "German army field typewriter"? A show of bad grace, of insensitivity? Or is it instead timely? Entirely appropriate? More to be the point, should this typewriter perhaps be in the Australian War Memorial here in Canberra, rather than the Australian Typewriter Museum?
How I came to have this typewriter is explained in my typecast. Please excuse the poor typing in this, especially as the "D" typeslug has been replaced and doesn't fit on the typebar properly.
What I know about this specially-made Olympia model comes mostly from a lengthy discussion about the Robust on the Yahoo online typewriter forum in 2005, a blog post last December by Bryan Kruk of Pennsylvania (Typewriters 101), and a YouTube video from the same collector. I've gathered that the Robust has a rather uncertain history (was it really used just by the SS? Was it used in post-war forgeries? Were models souvenired by Allied soldiers and taken back home after the war?). And that apparently I should have put a green ribbon in it, not a purple one.
What I still haven't worked out is the purpose of the vent on top of the ribbon spools cover. Or whether eBay really does thinly censor Nazi insignia in items such as this, or whether sellers do the censoring themselves, to heighten interest in Nazi memorabilia. In the case of my Robust, the seller did not highlight or censor the SS key, simply because (as he later claimed) he didn't know it was there. Either that, or he didn't realise its significance, or decided it was better not to highlight it, especially in Australia, where one would naturally have to wonder how such a machine got into the country.
Certainly, as was stated on the Yahoo forum, a lot of these Robusts do appear on eBay (and in other auctions) in Germany and in the US. Mine cost me 1/20th of the asking price of $1395 (upped by $1000 from the initial listing) for one relisted in Bavaria two days ago. Another sold in the US for $1000 after 30 bids less than two weeks ago.
Wikipedia says the SS symbol above the figure 5 on the top bank of the keyboard is the runic insignia of the Schutzstaffel (known in German as the SS-Runen). It appeared on flags, uniforms and other items, symbolising various aspects of Nazi ideology and Germanic mysticism. It also represented virtues seen as desirable in SS members, and were based on völkisch mystic Guido von List's Armanen runes, which he loosely based on the historical runic alphabets. List reinterpreted the symbol as a victory sign. It was adapted into the emblem of the SS in 1933 by Walter Heck, an SS Sturmhauptführer who worked as a graphic designer for Ferdinand Hoffstatter, a producer of emblems and insignia in Bonn. Heck's simple but striking device consisted of two sig runes drawn side by side like lightning bolts, and was soon adopted by all branches of the SS. The device had a double meaning; as well as standing for the initials of the SS, it could be read as a rallying cry of "Victory, Victory!" The symbol became so ubiquitous that it was frequently typeset using runes rather than letters; during the Nazi period, an extra key was added to German typewriters to enable them to type the double-sig logo with a single keystroke."
Someone who seemed knowledgeable on the Yahoo forum said the Robust was "a special production from Olympia for the German military, only used within correspondence between Hitler's SS. The Olympia Robust was only produced in limited edition as a different type of the Olympia Progress and it shows three major differences to the Progress: green typing colour, a special cover for the machine to protect it against damage during fighting, and the 'SS' button."
But let's remember that other German typewriters also offered the SS symbol; it's often found on Groma portables and Continentals, for instance. Let's also bear in mind that the Fraktur script font used on some German typewriters was once popular with the Nazis, until the Third Reich realised that Fraktur would inhibit communication in occupied territories.
I have to admit I am still wrestling with the morality of owning this typewriter. I have canvassed opinions among friends and family, and one friend said, "After all, we have to preserve signs of evil in order to remember and avoid it ... no one should assume that [by owning such a typewriter] you sympathise with Nazism."